The journos are at it again. They are paid to pretend that politics is fascinating and meaningful, that they are indispensable members of an indispensable institution without which democracy itself would cease to exist. Some of them actually believe it. Suggestions to the contrary typically result in collective tantrums and self-validating screeds on Twitter, the popular social networking platform.
In this particular instance, our nation's journalists were set off by the (accurate) suggestion, included in the reporting of some of their fellow journalists, that the impeachment hearings taking place in Congress were "dull" and lacked "pizzazz."
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Consequential, but dull: Trump impeachment hearings begin without a bang https://t.co/ShiVlzppn1
— Jeff Mason (@jeffmason1) November 14, 2019
Analysis: The first two witnesses called Wednesday testified to President Trump's scheme, but lacked the pizzazz necessary to capture public attention. https://t.co/1UfkaeZ3I4
— NBC News (@NBCNews) November 14, 2019
Because journalists personally enjoy writing and reading about themselves, and tweeting inside jokes to other journalists, "pizzazz"-gate produced a tidal wave of journo-centric content on the world wide web.
It "lacked the pizazz": Coverage of the first impeachment hearing illustrates how the media is falling short https://t.co/xktRKgToVs
— Vox (@voxdotcom) November 14, 2019
Sounds like a big story. But does it have pizzazz? https://t.co/jB793gvMUl
— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) November 14, 2019
Can't believe no network has put up a pizzazz-o-meter on the screen
— James Poniewozik (@poniewozik) November 15, 2019
NBC News torched for complaint that impeachment hearings lacked ‘pizzazz’: ‘Were they expecting a wardrobe malfunction?’ https://t.co/AonKPstLnc
— Raw Story (@RawStory) November 14, 2019
This dumb shit is how a corrupt carnival barker became the leader of the free world. You bunch of 3-year-olds having to be constantly entertained by shiny objects instead of treating the American presidency as if it were, you know, the American presidency. https://t.co/CiTyamb8xQ
— Josh Moon (@Josh_Moon) November 14, 2019
Bloomberg's Jennifer Epstein, an employee of Democratic primary candidate Michael Bloomberg who is herself supposed to be reporting on the Democratic primary, posted a popular take on the "controversy" that summed up the aggrieved sentiment percolating through the cold hearts of political journos and other politics-obsessed members of "The Resistance."
There is, though, a related point that’s valid: the extent to which the hearings draw the attention of the American people and how that shapes public opinion (which could or could not influence a Republican votes). But framing as interesting vs boring isn’t how to get there imho.
— Jennifer Epstein (@jeneps) November 14, 2019
Anyway, I don’t mean this to be a knock on any specific reporter or news organization. And, admittedly, I’m focused on covering the Democratic primary and not on the hearings. But this is an important moment in this country and we can’t roll through it on autopilot.
— Jennifer Epstein (@jeneps) November 14, 2019
Jonathan Allen of NBC News, one of the offending journalists who dared to imply that most normal, well-adjusted Americans were unlikely to be as riveted by congressional hearings as the D.C. media establishment was, "clapped back" in the comments after being urged to "consider the consequences of reporting on how entertaining you find the presentation."
I didn’t call the hearing boring. I worked for Congressional Quarterly for a decade. I know from boring hearings. I said it wasn’t dramatic. I also read transcripts and the Congressional Record. But most people don’t. And this has to be easy to understand—not just for Twitterati.
— Jonathan Allen (@jonallendc) November 14, 2019
"Consequences" being the operative word. Because everything the media does is assumed to be consequential, given its pivotal role in the democratic process—that of explaining to the impressionable, unwashed masses how to think (and why to care) about the inscrutable goings-on in our nation's capital. The thought that most people just aren't that impressed by the political media's tedious, soul-crushing, circle-jerking shenanigans has never occurred to them.
Vox, for example, explained why everything depends on the media's analysis of political events:
That sort of framing isn’t just a self-fulfilling analysis signaling to prospective news consumers that they can safely tune out the unexciting impeachment hearings. It’s also, as anyone who remembers lengthy cable news shots of Trump’s empty podium can attest, the exact sort of fixation on entertainment and optics over substance that played a key role in helping Trump win in 2016 in the first place. But if you hoped that major outlets learned something from that experience, the framing of the NBC and Reuters dispatches about the first public impeachment hearing was disappointing.
Maybe that's right, and every word a "major outlet" publishes is a powerful "signal" to the American people about how to think and how to vote. Maybe the media's actual influence is … less than they imagine it be. Who's to say?
The American public's trust in the media is certainly less than the media would like to admit. A recent Gallup survey found that just 13 percent of Americans trust the media "a great deal," with 28 percent expressing "a fair amount" of trust. Here's what Gallup found when they asked about the American public's confidence in television news in particular:
Lack of confidence aside, we do know that about 14 million people watched the first day of impeachment hearings on television, or about 6 percent of the U.S. voting population. That's significantly less than the 19 million viewers who tuned in to watch former FBI director James Comey testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee in May 2017.
The vast majority (10.6 million) of those who watched the impeachment hearings on television were over the age of 55. CNN chief media correspondent Brian Stelter surmised that younger viewers "were more likely to stream it and/or soak up the info like sponges," whatever that means.
The most watched networks for coverage of the impeachment hearings were also the most partisan ones—Fox News and MSNBC. Maybe that's because the people least inclined to find the hearings boring, which they objectively are, are the rabid partisans who aren't going to change their votes and, for some reason, require a constant dose of masochistic validation for their enduring belief that Trump/Democrats is/are saving/destroying the country.
In case it is relevant, the Gallup survey found that, among independent voters, trust in the media has fallen from 53 percent in 1997 to just 36 percent in 2019. Who, exactly, are the readers being poorly served (allegedly) when reporters use words like "dull" and "pizzazz" to describe dull hearings that lack pizzazz? You know, apart from other journalists and the anti-Drumpf partisans.
The replies to Epstein's rant about how two journalists published "unsophisticated" takes at this time of grave national importance are revealing, and often hilarious. Scroll through if you want to get a sense of the people who are outraged at the suggestion that their fellow Americans might not be so enthralled by the events taking place on Capitol Hill. For example:
This person whose bio includes the hashtags #StillWithHer and #Kamala2020:
All of my friends on Facebook were riveted by the testimony. One was glad her flight was delayed so she could continue listening to it on Sirius. Another was bummed that LA traffic wasn’t bad enough to allow her to continue listening as she drove to work.
— Mariló Costa (@MariloPozasC) November 14, 2019
This cat person who plans to #VoteBlueNoMatterWho:
I was so moved by their patriotic, factual testimony that I actually cried. I don’t need pizazz. I need good, honorable government.
— Randy (@RandyRNB) November 14, 2019
This "radical feminist bitch":
Many Americans were not bored. We know how important the #ImoeachmentHearings are. We want journalists to report the facts and that alone. I don’t care if they are bored. I wasn’t. We are sick of their spin. Their spin got us Trump.
— Jamie B (@jambie61) November 14, 2019
This "Proud #NeverTrump ‘human scum'" with an Evan McMullin-themed avatar:
I thought it was pretty captivating.
— TheValuesVoter (@TheValuesVoter) November 14, 2019
This "progressive political junkie":
Deliberately evil take
— crankyinsanantonio (@hbpreynaud) November 14, 2019
And so on and so forth:
Not boring. My heart was racing at points. I had to turn off the radio and calm down a few times.
— Anne Gerber (she/her) (@AnneTreegroup) November 14, 2019
I was riveted by the way and so were my five sisters. This is not spin. We watched it together. Reality was mesmerizing.
— Mary T. Hagan (@marytherese5) November 14, 2019
I found the hearing very informative as far as background and timeline is concerned; therefore NOT boring. WTF is wrong with them? As far as I’m concerned a headline like that is tantamount to a Trump endorsement.
— juliann manion (@JuliannManion) November 14, 2019
Maybe journalists should point out that it is our civic duty to watch the proceedings. Perpetuating an uninformed electorate by declaring that politics should be entertaining is a disservice to the public and a danger to our democracy.
— Texas Blue Dot (@tx_blue_dot) November 14, 2019
I didn’t think they were "boring" at all. When I tried to turn them off my 15 yr old yelled at me to turn it back on because he was listening to it. I was very surprised.
— Turkey-Lurkey (@kimberlypatch) November 14, 2019
Maybe most other people have better things to do with their time. Good for them. The hearings are boring. Cable news is atrocious. Some people will read or watch the recaps later. Some might even have a fair amount of trust in our media institutions, even if they don't deserve it.